Leave it to the defending champion to frame the challenges for the participants in the tournament and office pools alike.

That defending champ would be Virginia, which won the 2019 men’s NCAA tournament. The Cavaliers, seeded No. 4 in the West, are currently immersed in COVID hell.

They were forced to withdraw from the ACC tournament.

Most of the team is in quarantine.

They won’t be able to practice together until late this week.

They won’t fly to Indianapolis until Friday.

And they have a game Saturday.

In other words: Pick the Cavaliers to beat No. 13 Ohio at your own peril.

COVID, it appears, is the ultimate bracket buster.

Identifying winners in the 2021 tournament involves next-level foresight. The traditional tools for filling out a bracket (how teams match up, adjusted efficiency comparisons, etc.) don’t matter a lick if the team you pick can’t take the court.

Luckily, the Hotline knows everything, in advance, and has selected the winner of all 67 games.

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You can thank us later.

(Starting with the upper left bracket.)

Download and print your NCAA men’s and women’s tournament brackets

West

First Four: Wichita State over Drake and Appalachian State over Norfolk State
First round: Gonzaga over Appalachian State, Oklahoma over Missouri, UCSB over Creighton, Ohio over Virginia, USC over Wichita State, Kansas over Eastern Washington, Oregon over VCU and Iowa over Grand Canyon
Second round: Gonzaga over Oklahoma, UCSB over Ohio, Kansas over USC and Oregon over Iowa
Sweet 16: Gonzaga over UCSB and Kansas over Oregon
Elite Eight: Gonzaga over Kansas
Comment: UCSB is loaded with transfers from power conferences and is our top sleeper … We like Kansas to pick up where it left off before the COVID pause and eliminate both Pac-12 teams … The Zags have more ways to score than anyone else in the region, starting with freshman point guard Jalen Suggs, a top-five pick in the NBA Draft.

East

First Four: Texas Southern over Mt. St. Mary’s and Michigan State over UCLA
First round: Michigan over Texas Southern, St. Bonaventure over LSU, Georgetown over Colorado, Florida State over UNC Greensboro, Michigan State over Brigham Young, Texas over Abilene Christian, UConn over Maryland and Alabama over Iona
Second round: Michigan over St. Bonaventure, Florida State over Georgetown, Texas over Michigan State and Alabama over UConn
Sweet 16: Florida State over Michigan and Alabama over Texas
Elite Eight: Alabama over Florida State
Comment: No. 11 Michigan State has beaten two top seeds (Michigan and Illinois) and could win the region … Florida State possesses Final Four talent and first-round inconsistency … Alabama’s combination of playmakers, athleticism and defensive prowess — led by All-American Herb Jones — dominates the region. It’s like the football season all over again.

South

First Four: No games
First round: Baylor over Hartford, North Carolina over Wisconsin, Winthrop over Villanova, Purdue over North Texas, Utah State over Texas Tech, Arkansas over Colgate, Virginia Tech over Florida and Ohio State over Oral Roberts
Second round: Baylor over North Carolina, Winthrop over Purdue, Arkansas over Utah State and Ohio State over Virginia Tech
Sweet 16: Baylor over Winthrop and Ohio State over Arkansas
Elite Eight: Baylor over Ohio State
Comment: No. 12 Winthrop (23-1) has Cinderella potential and a vulnerable first-round opponent (Villanova) … Beware Arkansas and head coach Eric Musselman, who took Nevada to the Sweet 16 three years ago … Baylor leans on its stellar guards and regains the edge it used to dominate the rugged Big 12.

Midwest

First Four: No games
First round: Illinois over Drexel, Loyola over Georgia Tech, Tennessee over Oregon State, Oklahoma State over Liberty, Syracuse over San Diego State, West Virginia over Morehead State, Clemson over Rutgers and Houston over Cleveland State
Second round: Illinois over Loyola, Oklahoma State over Tennessee, West Virginia over Syracuse and Houston over Clemson
Sweet 16: Illinois over Oklahoma State and Houston over West Virginia
Elite Eight: Illinois over Houston
Comment: Syracuse is always a threat to wreck brackets … Houston coach Kevin Sampson knows his way around the Madness … The best player in the region is Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, the projected No. 1 pick in the draft … . But Illinois has the best team, with size, perimeter scoring options and lock-down defense.

Final Four

Semifinals: Alabama over Gonzaga and Baylor over Illinois
Championship: Baylor 74, Alabama 67
Comment: The NCAAs are all about guard play, and Baylor’s trio of Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and MaCio Teague is the best in the land. Plus, Alabama already owns one trophy this year. That’s more than enough.